The four-part Latin anthem Senex puerum portabat is found in the second book of Gradualia dating from 1607. Some years ago it became unfashionable to speak of the music of the Tudor composers—or composers of any so-called ‘early’ period—in terms of ‘word painting’, that is to say that a composer depicts the text being set in an expressive way. It has even been suggested that ‘early’ composers were not able to express themselves in music in any meaningful way at all—a notion reinforced by Stravinsky. This idea must be laid to rest at the earliest opportunity. True, composers of earlier periods did not express themselves in the overt way that composers of nineteenth century did, but there is a subtlety of expression in Byrd’s music which even the most hard-headed academics would acknowledge. In his anthem Senex puerum portabat it can be no surprise to the listener that the word ‘portabat’ is set with a rising interval in which the melodic line is held high before moving on towards the cadence. Further evidence of such an expressive approach is to be found at the delicate vocal lines at the word ‘adoravit’—truly a composer depicting an adoring mother enjoying her new-born child, the long-awaited Messiah.
from notes by William McVicker © 2002
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